It still surprises me when I see something new: at least something new to me. My mom would use that phrase when the neighbor sometimes gifted us a used tricycle or scooter. She’d say, “Shannon, you have a new scooter!” And I’d say, “Mommy, it’s not new. Joey rode it in the cul-de-sac last week. I saw him!” And she’d say, “Shannon, the scooter is new to you,” smiling in anticipation of having her too small kitchen to herself for a few hours while I go try the scooter round the cul-de-sac’s sidewalk. One time it was a skateboard. That particular cul-de-sac excursion didn’t turn out so well, leaving my face covered with cuts and bruises for the next two weeks. The road tar beyond the sidewalk’s gutter at the bottom of our driveway was a little rough.
Maybe it’s pride. Maybe I think that at this point I know enough. Maybe I’ve lost the childlike spirit of openness to new ways of seeing life. It’s tough you know. Things happen. Hard things happen. You cope. You deny. You run away. You rationalize. You philosophize. You throw yourself into your work or your leisure or your particular brand of anesthesia. You go to therapy. You read self-help books. You study Freud or Jung or enroll in a Psychology degree program to recover from your own dysfunction under the guise of wanting to help others.
I’m not saying that these aren’t effective means of relief. Not all are healthy, but in the moment, each in their own way can give solace and numb that feeling of helplessness to find real and lasting change within your self.
Yesterday out on the patio, I had an epiphany. I dictated this into my phone:
“There is something about my defense mechanisms within my body that hold me back from fulfilling the role that God has designed me to play. As a result, I hang back and I wait for others to step into the role that I believe they are supposed to play in my stead. And when they do not, I judge them and I am bitter toward them for leaving the burden to me. And I tell myself it is not my responsibility. But the truth is… in my body I have a system of defense that has been so long entrenched that it cannot be eradicated with a thought. It must be eradicated through spiritual disciplines and focus and trust in Jesus name.”
Being one who lives in my head, I think I know what life in the Kingdom looks like for me. I know my own discrepancies all to well; they haunt me and taunt me and keep me frustrated. I understand Romans 7 notion about the conflict of our two natures. Or at least I thought I did.
Within my body I carry defense systems that kick in for a variety of reasons depending upon the circumstances. I’ve been aware of their effect for years, but I’ve been at a loss about how to either get rid of or change them in some way that better facilitates my aspirations for living in the kingdom of God. My particular brand of defense systems leaves people feeling intimidated. Not exactly the kind of persona that wins friends and influences souls. On too many occasions, friends have said that people are afraid of me, an observation that always leaves me bewildered. I truly have not seen why. I’ve studied, I’ve thought about it, I’ve self-monitored, I’ve gone into new situations with the best of intentions…all to no avail.
The problem? I’ve been trying to solve this issue by changing the way I think. But that’s not where the problem lies. The problem lies in my body. And if I’d really understood Romans 7, I would have seen this a long time ago.
21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.
It’s right there! It’s in my body – literally in my body! Why must I always perceive scripture as metaphor when sometimes it’s not? Why must I always try to outsmart everything? Ah…because it’s in my body, that’s why. It’s “in my body” to prove my intellect because my father repeatedly told me I was stupid. It’s “in my body” to stay quiet and watch a room for threats because I learned to wait at the front door and listen for shouting before entering my childhood home. It’s “in my body” to avert my eyes and silence my mouth as a way to avoid confrontation with others because my questions and challenges to my parents were met with physical and emotional harm. It’s “in my body” to walk with my head up, eyes straight ahead, and share no expression of concern on my face because that’s what tough girls did to dissuade the bullies. And it’s “in my body” to take charge of a situation with a forceful delivery and an assertive tone because that’s what I as a female executive was required to do in the corporate world.
All of these systems are still working, but they’re not working for me. They’re working against me. Their original purposes have all faded into irrelevancy, but their archaic triggers still kick in like clockwork. Now they just cause problems, problems that lead to the development of new defense systems in my body. It’s a spiral. As long as I’m trying to fix my thoughts, I’ll just as long be missing the root of the problem and my body will stay in control of my outward behavior.
Dallas Willard talks about this just enough for me to have taken notice. He said that for us to become whole we must recognize the sin that resides in our body, part by part, and with intention, we must surrender each part to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. As soon as I heard his words, I suddenly understood where the problem had been hiding all along…right under my nose. Ironically, I’ve always been able to read other people just by looking at how they express themselves through their bodies. How they walk, their posture, their facial expressions, whether they hold tension in their shoulders, whether they pick up their feet when they walk, how fast they walk, whether they make eye contact, how they hold their head, how quickly their demeanor changes, how their demeanor changes, etc.
Wondering whether I was really on to something, I did a search of the word “body” in the Bible. The first thing that popped up was Matthew 6:22-23.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
Isn’t it interesting! The eye…presumably an eye that sees…is essential to the transformation of the body, allowing it to fill with light. In Eyes to See and Ears to Hear, I wrote about how we use our eyes not for the purpose of seeing, but to sort and categorize things so that they align with what we want to believe about ourselves, and the world. Jesus desires that we have eyes to see; eyes that are open to seeing the truth and experiencing life as it really is. When we choose to see, we can make progress navigating through the layers of our eye’s distorting filters and reality begins to emerge through the fog.
In the Old Testament, Leviticus 13 presents laws about leprosy, going into great detail about how the priests were to diagnose various manifestations of the skin disease. Once the diagnostic was completed, a process sometimes taking weeks to undergo, the priest would pronounce the person clean or unclean. The purpose was to find how far into the body the disease had taken hold, using several techniques to estimate the inward reach of the outward sign. Those pronounced as clean were allowed to stay in the camp. Those pronounced as unclean had to live alone outside the camp.
Does this seem analogous to the idea that we present outward signs of the inward issues we carry in our bodies? It does to me. Even now, despite the mercy of Christ, many are forced to live alone outside the camp because of the outward manifestations of their inward body issues. Relationships remain difficult, communication is cut off, and as long as we’re operating from our heads and fail to recognize the entrenched nature of what lies in our bodies, we remain frustrated at our own lack of progress in realizing the life we know (in our minds) is possible in the Kingdom.
Here’s another passage…
The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels,
And they go down into the innermost parts of the body.
And then of course, there is the passage from Matthew 5:
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; 28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.
I do read this passage as metaphorical! The guidance from my handy-dandy Greek word study reference seems right to me. It states, “He who, when his eye proves a stumbling-block, takes care not to see, does in reality blind himself.”
How do we begin to transform the body parts that take us down the wrong path? Good question. I’m not sure, but I think the first step is to find the root source of the problem. When we use our eyes to see clearly, we can watch for signs that our body systems are triggering, and then stop, take a breath, and choose to trust Jesus in the moment.
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts,13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
Romans 6: 12-14
I almost can’t wait to try this in a crowd. I’ll have my opportunity on Friday night at the Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers concert. Yikes! But that’s not it…it’s not that simple. In fact, this feels like the next big battle. I don’t look forward to it, but it’s imperative to becoming whole and filled with light.
I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.
That’s it for today.
14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God [o]in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in [p]the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner [q]of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from [r]the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.